§ 11.12 a.m.
§ The Earl of Cranbrook rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on tropical forests [11th Report, HL Paper 40].
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, we have before us this morning the 11th Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities which was published in March 1990 on tropical forests. The inquiry was 527 conducted in the winter of 1989–90 and it concerned the European Commission's communication on the conservation of tropical forests, reference number 8458/89.
§ The inquiry was carried out by Sub-committee F and we were advised by David Baldock, a senior research fellow of the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London. We were assisted by written and oral evidence from the ODA and the DTI, from the Timber Trade Federation, from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Friends of the Earth and the WWF, and written submissions from the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO)—I shall refer to it in future by its acronym—and other institutions and individuals listed on page 4 of the report.
§ With those contributions, the report contains a compendium of instructive background material on the subject of tropical rain forests. In particular I draw your Lordships' attention to the glossary of technical terms and abbreviations on pages 31 to 33.
§ The Select Committee inquiry overlapped the ITTO special investigation into forest management in Sarawak, Malaysia, of which I was also the chairman. Through the Sarawak inquiry I had the astonishing opportunity, simultaneously to pursuing your Lordships' inquiry, to see forestry operations, from felling the jungle giants to the final export of the timber. I had the chance also to meet the people at all levels from the retiring jungle nomad to the leaders of the wood-based industry in Sarawak. I wish to take the opportunity to say a few words on the ITTO inquiry at the close of my speech because I consider it very relevant to the subject in hand.
§ I return to the committee's report. The first question which the Select Committee asked itself was: what justification have we as non-tropical timber countries for examining the policies with relation to what may be regarded as the internal affairs of other nations? The European Communities Commission in its report also started off by asking that same question.
§ We felt that the fact that the Commission saw the need for that communication reflects the world wide anxiety which exists over the threats to tropical rain forests. Grounds for involvement by European Community member states put forward in the Commission's document were broadly agreed by the Select Committee. Those are, first, that the European Community is a large importer of tropical forest products, especially semi-finished and unprocessed products. Some tropical timbers are of value for special uses. Therefore, there is an element of self-interest in maintaining that supply.
§ Secondly, the Community is committed to international conservation. Thirdly, as evidence showed us, burning or decay of the tropical rain forest timber contributes to the atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide and, hence, to the engine of global climate change. I note that the report of the working group in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently accepted the estimate that 1.6 528 gigatonnes of carbon per annum, which is about one third of the annual increment from the burning of fossil fuels, is being added to the carbon load of the atmosphere and is therefore a critical element in the current inbalance.
§ Fourthly, the Commission and the committee were concerned about human rights issues. It is accepted that those are legitimate causes for international concern. Fifthly, the European Community has great influence through its economic and political weight. Sixthly, the Community member states are jointly the world's largest source of international development aid.
§ Your Lordships' Select Committee has certain criticisms of the Commission's analysis. As your Lordships can see at paragraph 92, it considers that the analysis lacks the necessary urgency in tackling this problem; that there was excessive emphasis on the ever-humid rain forests of the tropical regions; that it was too narrowly focused on Lomé and the European Development Fund; and that it ignores resolutions of the European Parliament. However, we were very broadly in agreement with the main thrust of the Commission's report.
§ I should like to highlight some of your Lordships' Select Committee's views. Among others, the value of timber exports is now a significant economic factor for only a few tropical countries, and that number is declining. Nevertheless, restrictions on trade could remove one incentive for conserving tropical forests and managing them sustainably. Therefore, paragraph 110 states that calls for a ban on imports to the Community should be resisted.
§ At paragraph 111 the committee concludes that it is not clear that a levy or import surcharge would promote good forest management. ITTO's feasibility study for source-labelling is welcomed, as is the United Kingdom Government's support for that. However, unilateral imposition of any labelling system should be avoided.
At paragraph 113 the committee calls for a discriminating approach to promote high-value imports from sustainable sources. European-based companies with direct investment in tropical timber businesses should be encouraged to minimise adverse environmental effects of their operations on the ground.
§ At paragraph 116 your Lordships will see that the Select Committee found that there is little evidence to demonstrate a useful Community role in debt relief for environmental benefits. The committee favours Community involvement in the co-ordination of national aid projects rather than a separate Community fund. That was explained at paragraphs 105 to 108.
§ We believe that much action can best be pursued in partnership with other countries within the framework of international organisations and agreements. We singled out particularly the IUCN which is doing well in the Central African context. We mentioned the tropical forestry action plan, although that programme may need review, and the International 529 Tropical Timber Organisation which merits financial, technical and political support, as we say at paragraph 115.
In any event, essential skills will be needed. Paragraph 99 of the report says,
The relevant services of the Commission have few staff with a professional training in tropical forestry and appear not to be planning to recruit more".
§ Where it exists, the Select Committee believes that the Commission should draw on expertise from member states. Because of its past colonial history the United Kingdom at present can still offer experienced tropical foresters, although they are becoming a little long in the tooth. However, the Committee was concerned about the falling commitment of British institutions of further education. It believed that it is in the national interest that better training in tropical forestry should be available in this country both for our own nationals and for students from tropical countries.
§ The main conclusions of your Lordships' Select Committee are laid out in paragraphs 119 to 123. The Committee believes that the primary aim of Community strategy should be to support sustainable management of natural forests and surrounding areas with emphasis on long-term value for local people, and therefore focusing on minor products as well as timber.
§ It is important to assist the establishment of adequate networks of protected forests where biological conservation is the main priority. Community aid should be broadly directed to cover activities such as the rehabilitation of degraded or disused land, agricultural improvement and the establishment of plantations on non-forest land as well as improved management of natural forests and the establishment of reserves. Environmental assessment programmes must be incorporated into Community development aid. Overall, as I said, there must be greater emphasis on training and career development for tropical foresters.
§ The report was published in March. There have been several subsequent developments of which we should take note. On 29th May of this year the document was considered by the European Communities Overseas Development Ministers. Their resolution endorsed reliance on the tropical forestry action plan as a basic framework for action. On 25th/26th June the Dublin Council meeting discussed Community action on tropical forests. However, by my reading, the ensuing declaration contains no new initiative.
The issue of tropical forests was also covered in the White Paper, This Common Inheritance, published recently. In chapter 4 I note that the Government are already working to strengthen the tropical forestry action plan and to see,
a more open and informed public dimension".
The Government propose to,
continue to play a constructive role in the ITTO, especially to promote measures to ensure that trade in tropical timber is carried out in a sustainable manner".
The White Paper also said that the Government,
has launched a major new aid initiative to help developing countries maximise the economic and social benefits they enjoy from their forests in a sustainable way".
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend on the Front Bench a little more of what that statement means, and hope that he will explain more fully the nature of those initiatives.
§ As recently as 3rd October, Mostafa Tolba, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, speaking at the WWF Sir Peter Scott Memorial Lecture, strongly criticised the developed world for the inadequacy of its international aid towards the protection of natural habitats. He called for a binding global biodiversity convention, for which UNEP has already set up an intergovernmental working group. I hope that the Minister will assure us that Her Majesty's Government support that initiative.
§ Perhaps I may take up the last few minutes by discussing my personal interest in the ITTO mission and something of the forthcoming events as a consequence. In particular I should like to ask my noble friend what he expects to eventuate when the Sarawak Report is debated at Yokohama in November at the forthcoming International Tropical Timber Council meeting. The response of member governments is a critical test of the effectiveness of ITTO. The report on Sarawak concluded that present logging practices in that state are not sustainable but that with suitable changes selective logging of the natural forest could be sustainable.
§ The key recommendations of the ITTO report were, first, that the staff of the Sarawak forest department must be comprehensively strengthened; secondly, that the annual rate of harvesting must be phased down to a volume that corresponds with the prospective sustainable yield calculated with some care within various parameters in the main text of the report; thirdly, that standards of catchment protection in hill forest production concessions must be improved.
§ As with so many other tropical timber producing countries, the state Government of Sarawak, like that of Sabah state to its north, is heavily dependent on forest revenue. An immediate cessation of logging is unlikely. Yet those states face the dilemma that, according to present predictions, if they continue harvesting at current rates, all primary forest in Sarawak will have been logged in a decade, and in Sabah the figure is nearer three years. That means that in a very short time the most pressing threat in those states will be to the totally protected forest areas; that is to say, the national parks and other biodiversity sanctuaries that have been set aside. I therefore urge Her Majesty's Government to do all that they possibly can to discourage logging out of those vital biodiversity reserves when other primary forest in those states is exhausted.
§ The reassuring element of the ITTO report was the convinced prediction that in the longer term cut-over rainforest can recover and be restored, with one or two provisions. Re-entry must be prevented; sufficient 531 time must be allowed for the regeneration process, and proper silvicultural treatment systems must be put in place.
§ Against that background, it is seriously misleading to equate logging with the destruction of the rain forests in Eastern Malaysia. That pejorative word carries with it the danger that not only the speaker, but also the listeners—the people and governments of states such as Sarawak—will see no future in their natural resource of cut-over forest and will have no incentive to protect it and to allow it to regenerate.
§ The ITTO mission convinced me that sustainable forestry in that humid tropical environment is possible. I have seen myself that logged forest can support rich wildlife communities. After logging, timber tree seedlings spring up. Progressively the scars to the land heal. Appropriate silvicultural practices have been researched in those countries and need to be developed. Time must be allowed to lapse between successive coupes. When all that is possible, to describe logged forest as destroyed could put it into fatal jeopardy.
§ I have wandered a little from the Select Committee's Report but I believe that everything I have said is relevant and germane to the discussions that are found between its pages. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on tropical forests [11th Report, HL Paper 40]. —(The Earl of Cranbrook.)
§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, in the House of Lords we are privileged to have probably one of the greatest experts on tropical forestry in the person of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. No one has done more in that field than he. I shall devote a few minutes of my speech to some of the work that he has been doing.
Because my name is Shackleton I have always been identified with the polar regions, whereas my first love from the exploring point of view is Borneo, and in particular Sarawak, to which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, referred. There is no doubt that the importance of the rain forests has only recently been recognised. What is also important, as the noble Earl said, is that it is necessary to bring a degree of intelligence and understanding to the issue. It is not enough to say, "Do not cut down the forests". If we simply say that, the forests will be cut down, because people depend on them. Therefore, it is necessary for a degree of education and intelligence to be brought to bear on the subject.
It is extremely notable that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has made a great contribution in setting up a new tropical forest department in Brunei linked to Brunei University. It is strongly supported in this country, particularly by the Royal Geographical Society and by Her Majesty's Government. It will be in unspoilt pure tropical rain forest and will be an example to the rest of the world. It is the noble Earl, 532 Lord Cranbrook, who is responsible for that and we all owe him our thanks and congratulations for what he has done.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the Royal Geographical Society and many of us have been active in this field for many years. Indeed, I remember the first expedition to investigate the forest canopy in British Guyana with Max Nicholson, and others, in 1929. I was on an expedition in 1932, and several expeditions have followed since then. There was a big expedition from the Royal Geographical Society under Robin Hanbury-Tennyson on Mulu, which is a mountain I am particularly fond of, and that is where some of this basic work has been done. Although, generally speaking, cutting down forests and hoping to grow crops on a large scale does not work, because the soil is not good enough, in that region it has been found that it can be done selectively in a moderate and intelligent way.
It is necessary for the people in the countries which have these tropical rain forests to realise that possibly there is more money to be made in the long run from the resources of the tropical rain forests instead of using them simply as sources of timber. The drugs and biodiversity are vital. Again, it is not fully appreciated that the sizes and range of species to be found in these forests are enormously greater than anywhere else in the world. The biodiversity to which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, referred is a vital subject on which the main efforts should be made.
I know that there is criticism of the tropical forest plan. Indeed, I believe that some of my colleagues on these Benches are critical of it. There is no doubt that we need to continue to support it and not destroy it; but there may be a need for reform as there is a danger of its becoming too bureaucratic. The proposal for an international convention to consider tropical rain forests is an excellent one.
We know that the Prime Minister has promised £100 million. It will be interesting to learn from the Government whether any of that money has been spent or even made available. There is little doubt that a lot of money is necessary to support the developing world in making the best use of its tropical forests. There are certain areas where it is extremely important this money should be used: Brazil, Amazonia and Venezuela. The present Venezuelan ambassador in this country, Dr. Kerdel-Vegas, is a major advocate of conservation; but, again, intelligent conservation and not simply drawing a line around the tropical rain forests and saying that no one should go into them except the occasional tourist. That is where the research that will be done in Brunei and other places —Brunei is just one example—will be of great importance to the world.
The conclusions drawn from the work of the Select Committee are perhaps obvious. They make sense, but I should like to put in a word of caution. There is a danger that extreme conservation may destroy instruments which are good for the future. We need to 533 be selective and intelligent in this respect, and that is basically the recommendation of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook.
A number of noble Lords—an exceptional turnout for a Friday—will be speaking on this subject. I conclude on the theme that there is an enormous amount of work to be done. The great majority of the vast number of species on earth are to be found in the rain forests. We do not know all these species. A relatively small proportion have been identified, but they are of importance. An understanding of the rain forests and of their biology is a first requirement in tackling this problem.
We should be grateful to the Select Committee. It was extraordinarily lucky to have the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, as chairman. The work of the new centre in Brunei—on which the Brunei Government are to be congratulated as they helped to finance it and provided some of the staff—is a monument to the work that the noble Earl has done in this field. We congratulate him, and we certainly support the report of the Select Committee.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, first I welcome the report and add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the other members of the Select Committee for their excellent work in preparing it. I am glad that the noble Earl referred to Sarawak as most of my remarks will be devoted to the Amazon basin. However, I must mention that I am rather taken aback to be speaking so early in the debate. I apologise for the fact that my speech is the sort of contribution that one would normally make at a later stage in such a debate. But it is the speech I have prepared and therefore I hope noble Lords will understand that it is the one I shall make.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on his speech and return the compliment he was kind enough to pay me on the occasion of my maiden speech. I was grateful for his remarks.
With the forbearance of the House I should like to cover some technical information which, sadly, the Gaia Foundation did not have the opportunity to present to the committee simply because, I imagine, they were not aware of each other's existence. The information throws a different light on the climatic situation. A common expression used by environmentalists to describe rain forest is to say that it is the lungs of the world, a factory of oxygen for the earth's atmosphere. That is untrue. The rain forest produces exactly as much oxygen as it consumes, as does every ecosystem which has reached a stable state. If it were to disappear it would not make a great difference to the oxygen content of the atmosphere; however, it would change the world climate tremendously. This does not take account of the rapid release of carbon dioxide through burning. It would change the world climate tremendously because of the effect of its staggering rate of evapo-transpiration. About 75 per cent. of the rain that falls on the Amazon rain forest is put back into the atmosphere within the first 48 534 hours or so to make new rain. On its way from the Atlantic the water that is brought in by the trade winds and falls in the east of Amazonia is recycled between five and seven times from the Atlantic to the Andes.
When the air masses travel over the Amazon and hit the Andes they split into three parts: one part jumps over the Andes, one part goes south and one part more or less follows the Gulf Stream going over the eastern coast of North America and then on to central and northern Europe. Therefore, our climate is directly connected with the climate of that region. Although northern Europe has a relatively pleasant climate, it is on the same latitude on the other side of the Atlantic as Labrador and Eskimo country. That is because of these two streams—the Gulf Stream and the air masses emanating from the Amazon. The situation is therefore much more complicated than previously believed.
If the rain forest system of recirculation is halted it can bring about the collapse of the whole forest. It could collapse before we destroy more than 30 percent. We have already destroyed up to 15 percent. If a large section of forest is bare then the process of evapo-transpiration is replaced by hot air rising. It reflects the heat back to the atmosphere. Incoming clouds will dissolve and it will not rain for hundreds of miles inland; it may only rain thousands of miles away and the forest will start to die. The effect of this is impossible to calculate. When we deal with complex systems such as world climate, we cannot make linear or even exponential extrapolations. Complex systems such as living systems or the world climate do not react that way. They can take an awful lot of abuse up to a point and then just collapse.
On page 23 of the report mention is made of the tropical forest action plan. I should like to sound a note of caution of the plan. Its implementation has been severely criticised in many quarters. The TFAP is a channel for government money assigned to rain forest conservation. In fact, the TFAP has been shown to favour forestry projects proposed by the timber industry which do not require either environmental or social impact assessments. The TFAP therefore has very little to do with the protection of the forests.
Recently, at a meeting of representatives of indigenous peoples and environmental NGOs in Sussex, organised by the Gaia Foundation, which has briefed me for this debate, an international forest convention was discussed. This idea is being discussed by many other organisations at present due to the many criticisms that have been made of the tropical forest action plan. Such a convention could ensure that the TFAP was implemented properly.
I apologise for quoting at length the words of Evaristo Nugkuag, president of the co-ordinating body of the indigenous organisations of the Amazon basin. I do so because it is important that we move away from any preconceived notions that some noble Lords may still hold about the indigenous population of this area. He said:We, the indigenous peoples, have been an integral part of the Amazon biosphere for millenia. We use and care for the 535 resources of this biosphere with respect, because it is our home and because we know that our survival and that of future generations depends on it. Our accumulated knowledge about the ecology of our home, our models for living within the Amazon biosphere, our reverence and respect for the tropical forest and its other inhabitants, both plant and animal, are the keys to guaranteeing the future of the Amazon basin, not only for our peoples but for all of humanity. Our experience, especially during the past 100 years, has taught us that when politicians and developers take charge of our home, they destroy it because of their short-sightedness, their ignorance, and their greed".I am sure that noble Lords will agree that those are trenchant words. I would like to survey some of the good things that are happening in the Amazon rain forest. The governments in that region are taking seriously the concern of their own people and of the people in the rest of the world. Colombia has taken a major step towards working with the forest people as guardians of the rain forest. In an unprecedented move, the last government of President Barco recognised Indian rights over land and natural resources in the Amazon forest which included the signing over of 18 million hectares of forest for the Indians to administer in accordance with their cultural traditions.
Brazil has officially designated the world's first extractive reserve at Alto Jurua in Acre. After a long campaign on the part of the rubber tappers—noble Lords will remember the sacrifice of Chico Mendez —this large area of rain forest was handed over to them to administer collectively. This will safeguard the forest and their way of life as they have only recently freed themselves from the exploitation of the rubber barons. In Brazil again, Jose Lutzenberger, has been appointed as special secretary for the environment. He is a well-known and tenacious campaigner.
As the report mentions, we have to be very careful not to interfere in the internal politics of sovereign states. But there is undoubtedly a strong link between the pattern of land ownership in the Amazon basin (and possibly in other areas where this type of forest exists) and increasing pressure by the landless poor on the fragile eco-system of these areas.
Now that the cold war has ended there can no longer be—if indeed there ever was—any justification for turning a blind eye to the internal policies of some rather peculiar political bedfellows simply because their enemies, real or imagined, happened to be the same as ours. With the changes occurring in the East, should we not, individually and in conjunction with our European partners, now direct similar attention to encouraging both the moves to democracy in Latin America and the emerging environmental awareness there which are, of course, linked phenomena? Social justice in the shape of a substantial measure of land reform to help many thousands of would-be small farmers will greatly ease the pressure their efforts are currently placing on both the environment and on their fellow citizens whose home is in the rain forests.
I apologise to noble Lords. Perhaps this is not an appropriate speech to make at this time in the debate. I am sure that many more experienced speakers will fill 536 in the gaps that I have left. I welcome the report. It is very valuable. I hope that its recommendations will be fully implemented.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Lord Vernon
My Lords, I cannot pretend to be an expert on tropical forests in the sense of the noble Earl who opened this debate or the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who followed him. I am purely an amateur with a very keen interest in the preservation of the environment and the forest in particular. I hope that the remarks which follow will be taken in that context.
While the Select Committee is to be congratulated on amassing so much valuable evidence regarding the destruction of tropical forests and its effect on climate, the environment and the future life on this planet, I am bound to say that I find some of its conclusions and recommendations disappointing.
At the beginning of the report we are told that large areas of natural forest are being logged, clear-felled and burned or in other ways converted, at an unprecedented rate. While there may be a difference of opinion on the actual amount of deforestation which is taking place annually, there seems no dispute about the fact that it is happening at an increasing rate and that at least half of the forest cover which existed in the world 100 years ago has already been lost.
So one would have thought that, above all else, the urgency of the problem would have been stressed and that some immediate steps by which the Community could help to reduce the rate of rain forest loss would have been advocated. It is stated in paragraph 13 that the Community is one of the world's largest importers of tropical timber and timber products. The report goes on to emphasise the obstacles to taking action to reduce this importation.
Of course there are difficulties, the main one being that we do not control political decisions taken in countries where the logging is taking place. But we can exert considerable influence on these countries in a number of ways, the principal one being trade. Paragraph 64 of the report discusses the resolution of the European Parliament, which is supported both by Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund, regulating the trade in tropical woods and wood products as a means of tropical forest conservation and management.
Here I would like to pay tribute to those voluntary bodies, such as FE and the World Wildlife Fund, which have done so much to publicise these problems. I believe that without their pressure even less would be being done by governments than is being done today. I believe that their suggested approach to the problem has much to commend it, especially if the regulation is done in the closest consultation with the timber-producing countries themselves. After all, it is in their long-term interests, just as it is in ours, that these forests should be preserved. It is up to the Western governments to make good to the countries whose trade was to be limited any financial loss which they might suffer as a result.
537 I hope that the Government will look again at this question of regulation notwithstanding that my view does not appear to be shared by the Select Committee. I would just add that there is a growing sense of revulsion in this country when people begin to witness the unlimited availability of mahogany for modern reproduction furniture and of cedarwood for the construction of door and window frames. I see this all the time in the Midlands area where I live. Those are only two examples. People now realise from television programmes what this means in terms of forest depletion. I am not advocating a ban; but I believe that it should not be beyond human ingenuity to devise a system of regulation which would have the support of most right-minded people in the community and also of the timber-producing countries themselves.
There is one further aspect of the problem which is barely mentioned in the report but which I believe to be of fundamental importance. It concerns not only the closed broadleaf forests but also the open and fallow forests referred to in paragraph 8 of the report. The basic reason why these trees are being cut down today at such an unprecedented rate is the pressure of population on land.
With populations in the tropical countries doubling on average every 30 years, it is inevitable that there should be a vastly greater internal consumption of wood in the countries themselves, quite apart from that lost by trade, which of course brings economic benefits in the short term and so long as the supply of timber lasts. The ever-increasing number of human beings will require more wood for construction, more for coffins and burning their dead and above all more fuel for cooking. They also need to clear forest cover for living space and cultivation. It is difficult to see how all this can be controlled, bearing in mind the poverty and backwardness of the people concerned.
There can be only one solution to this problem and that lies in reducing family size and ultimately in reducing population growth to the stable situation which we have in the West. That is of course another subject which is not properly the concern of this debate. But I would ask noble Lords to bear it in mind in relation to deforestation. It is certainly a vital factor to which increasing attention will have to be given soon if humanity is to survive in any civilised and recognisable form.
§ 11.54 a.m.
The Earl of Clanwilliam
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, I speak with due humility which I hope will be evidenced in my remarks today. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and his committee for art excellent, incisive and far-reaching report. I should also like to thank the directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Forestry Institute for papers they have prepared for me. A copy of the Kew report has been given to my noble friend the Minister.
The primary requirement is to stop the degradation and devastation of the timber forest and to develop a sustainable timber industry that can support it. I speak however, to ask my noble friend the Minister to 538 concentrate some of the government resources on biodiversity. I join the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in asking for some of the £100 million donated by the Government to be spent on this element. The committee emphasised, to use its own words, the value of the exceptional biodiversity in medicinal and aromatic plants, the need for a compilation of forest inventories and for studies of traditional knowledge of forest use. It also referred to the harvesting of economic crops and the marketing of quantities of food, feedstocks and fuel for the indigenous peoples. All those are vital parts of biodiversity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's plant species are to be found in the rain forest. Some experts at Kew suggest that in certain rain forests of the world up to 30 or 40 per cent. of the botanical material is not known to science and that the rest is only partially known.
The report of the independent review on the tropical forestry action plan which was written in May 1990 in Kuala Lumpur, no doubt when my noble friend Lord Cranbrook was there, reflects rather badly on the action plan. It suggests that the whole thing should start again under a new name. It gives two aims —forestry and biodiversity. The report of the Department of the Environment also emphasises the importance of biodiversity. What is being done by the European Community in this matter? Pages 2 to 8 of the evidence to the report list 148 activities which are major EC projects. Not one mentions biodiversity. In solitary glory, on page 9, there is reference to the 24 projects instituted by the ODA. Not one of them mentions biodiversity. That is quite remarkable.
It is self-evident that biodiversity is largely botanical. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is recognised world-wide as the major centre for botanical research and knowledge. Its resources, reputation, knowledge and skill are, however, ignored by the ODA. In contrast, NGOs and other countries use Kew extensively. Brazil has a 16-year programme. Brazil has not joined the tropical forestry action plan but it goes to Kew. The World Wildlife Fund uses Kew extensively. That is an instance of a nongovernmental organisation using ODA funds to go to another government organisation—Kew—to get help. Is this not topsy-turvy? In addition, Kew has made a number of projects viable by getting sponsorship from major United Kingdom companies but has had no funds from the ODA.
It appears that the ODA has appointed the Oxford Forestry Institute as the sole user of the £100 million that the Government have made available for the rain forest project. I must ask my noble friend the Minister whether it is correct for a government authority to divest itself of its financial responsibility and place it in the hands of a university department. The OFI is one of the great and prestigious institutions of our country and nothing I say should detract from its importance in this field, especially as regards forestry.
My noble friend Lord Cranbrook mentioned the importance of training. We have here a specific example of where the OFI could be of enormous help 539 to all the world—as indeed could Kew—in training people in forestry. The director of the OFI has advised me that he has started a co-operation project with Kew and Reading. This development is most welcome and will provide a timber, botanical and agricultural committee which will be extremely useful not only to the EC but also to the new tropical forest action plan, as I believe it is to be called.
The Oxford Forestry Institute uses ODA funds to computerise the 250,000 herbarium sheets which it has. All botanical gardens have their herbaria where they keep their dried plant material. Some of these are kept in tens of thousands while others are kept in hundreds of thousands. At Oxford there are 250,000 but at Kew they are not measured in hundreds or thousands; they are measured in millions. In fact, there are 6 million sheets at Kew. In the natural history department of the Science Museum in South Kensington there are 3 million. It seems strange that Oxford can use ODA funds to computerise its 250,000 sheets while Kew and the Natural History Museum are unable even to begin this work.
The collection in the Kew herbaria has been collected over more than 100 years. If it can be properly computerised, we now have the opportunity to ensure that this great national treasury is used to great advantage by all the world. Of course this will cost a lot of money, but the money and the time are available and the opportunity is here. I suggest to the Minister that he should consider the use of some of the ODA funds for this important matter.
Biodiversity is vital to the world's interests. We should use all our institutions to the best advantage in fulfilling the recommendations of my noble friend's report, which I commend to the House.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, as a member of sub-Committee F I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Earl for his inspiring chairmanship of the committee during the preparation of the report. I can assure the House that noble Lords who have already expressed humility in the face of his expertise are not alone; indeed, a few members of the committee felt just the same.
The committee was convinced that community involvement in these issues was justified. Moreover, as the noble Earl has spelt out, it gave six very good reasons for such involvement. We might perhaps add a seventh to the effect that much of the present concern about the danger of global warming is the result of long years of pollution by the developed countries which have used up the capacity of the planet to absorb and neutralise harmful emissions.
We have destroyed our own forests—so long ago that most of us can no longer remember them—and have achieved a high standard of living by exploiting natural resources. We have also been careless of the long-term effects of our polluting activities. We must, therefore, take our share of the blame for the present crisis; I do not think that "crisis" is too strong a word in this respect. However, now at last we are aware of 540 the possible consequences and we are asking less developed countries not to do what we have done and not to expect the high standard of living which we have achieved.
However, more than exhortation will be needed, as so many speakers have said. The main causes of tropical forest destruction are commercial logging or clearance for agriculture. Behind both those activities is economic need. Population growth, combined with rural poverty, causes local people to expand their use of forests and causes migration on to unoccupied forest land. Official bodies can permit over-exploitation of timber resources by irresponsible companies or other interests. In both cases the essential problem is that the persons concerned exploit the forest for economic gain.
Standing timber brings little or no short-term advantage or economic benefit except where a few secondary forest industries exist whereas felled timber, as we have heard, has a market value and provides some areas for short-term productive farming. If forests are to be conserved it is imperative to give standing forests a value to both of the interest groups which I have mentioned. That value must be superior, or at least equal, to the value achieved by felling. In the short term, that means attaching a value to keeping the forest intact which benefits both local people and governments.
That view is strongly held by the RSPB of which I am a council member. The society has an international role in bird protection. As your Lordships will appreciate, many of our birds migrate to forest areas and the society is therefore very aware of the damage caused by the felling which is taking place. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, other conservation bodies also support this view and are playing an active role in the matter.
The developed world has the resources, but most of the rain forest countries do not. If we are to take practical action to ensure a future for the rain forests, considerable financial aid must be given for the task. At paragraph 104, the report recognises that the tropical forestry action plan needs to "evolve". In plainer words, as we have heard from other speakers, the TFAP is short of resources and of imaginative response to changing needs. It is encouraging to note that the Community is to take a fresh look at whether the plan is the best vehicle for meeting new imperatives. I realise that this was also mentioned in the Government's White Paper.
However, when discussing sustainable management of tropical forests, it is vital not to do so with certain interest groups or groups of forest products in mind. Consideration must be given to the ecosystem as a whole as selective management can be as destructive to species diversity as total destruction of the forest.
The concept of protected areas set out in paragraph 120 of the report is sound. However, it must be borne in mind that these protected areas will be in poor countries which will probably have major international debts. Preserved forest represents a source of 541 income which is forgone in the interests of conservation. Locking up this potential income in reserves will be difficult for governments to justify in such circumstances. Therefore, aid packages must be designed to back up protected forests and bring benefits to governments and to local people as a return for protecting these reserve areas.
There probably is a role for the effective use of environmental impact procedures. Above all, as the noble Earl and my noble friend Lord Shackleton, have said, there is a need for education, training and research. There is a shortage of appropriate skills, but we should remember, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, pointed out, that much talent is to be found among the indigenous people of the forests and in the forest departments of the countries concerned. Ways must be found to draw on that experience in the planning of sustainable forestry development.
The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, pointed to the need to pay attention to the forests' biodiversity role. That is the irreplaceable feature of the rain forests. Many of the other functions can be achieved in other ways. Soil protection and fertility, for example, and the locking up of carbon can be achieved by management and replanting, but the unexplored and unknown plant and animal resources which are being destroyed can never be recreated. We owe it to ourselves and to our descendants at least to stay our hands until we know what we are doing. We may be destroying the answers to problems that we have yet to encounter. Will the Minister tell us whether there has recently been increased scientific activity to meet that worry? Are we waiting until everyone has made up their minds what to do? Perhaps he can tell us what activity there is.
It is encouraging to read the conclusions of the June Dublin summit and that part of the Houston declaration which dealt with forests. Both statements were encouraging and showed a real concern for the problem. With the report and our debate, there is no shortage of words on the subject. But while we all talk, the forests are still burning. They are still disappearing at a rate of between 16 million hectares and 20 million hectares each year. Unless, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, said, urgent action is taken we shall never solve the problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that we are to have action as well as words.
§ 12.12 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I too thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Cranbrook on the way he chaired the sub-committee which led to the report with its wise recommendations and also for his clear introduction to that report at the beginning of the debate. I was not a member of that sub-committee. I venture to speak because I have raised points on tropical forests in Question Time and debates which I have initiated in the past two years.
Few of the world's tropical forests are within the jurisdiction of members of the EC. Those few are in 542 certain French overseas departments. However, every part of the world is affected by the destruction without replacement of the world's forests at the present rate.
There are considerations which do not affect the atmosphere. The first is the wildlife which those tropical forests harbour. Some of those species—flora and fauna—could well become extinct. They are also the source of plant products, including important medicines. The most important objection to the destruction of those forests is probably that the destruction is a significant factor in increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That leads to global warming and the greenhouse effect which we have discussed on other occasions.
Burning tropical forest trees releases carbon dioxide. Felling and allowing to decay also releases carbon dioxide. Felling trees, and their removal without replacement, also affects the amount of carbon dioxide, because they are no longer there to absorb carbon dioxide from the air through their leaves.
The wholesale removal of hundreds of thousands of square miles of forest, which is now happening, reduces the natural balance of carbon dioxide given off from various sources into the atmosphere, which is then absorbed by foliage and vegetation. In their natural existence forests absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is given off by humans and animals.
There is a further point that I should like to emphasise and which I believe is important in this debate. Young, growing trees absorb much more carbon dioxide than mature ones. Deliberate cropping and replacement—that is, harvesting the timber under forestry management plans—increases the beneficial effect of forests on the atmosphere. There is therefore a positive advantage to be gained from growing those trees as a crop, provided that the felling is matched by replanting.
The EC is a major importer of tropical forest products. I agree with the sub-committee that there is no need to place a ban on that trade. What is necessary —where it is not already in existence—is sound forestry management with the assistance and co-operation of the industrialised countries, including those of the EC. I sympathise with the view sometimes expressed by the developing countries. They point out that the Western world achieved its development in the past two centuries without bothering overmuch about the atmosphere or pollution in general. If we now interfere and prescribe expensive remedies, we in the West should help with technical and financial assistance.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me. He has used the word "replanting" more than once. The soil is often so weak that it is not possible to replant on any extensive scale.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, but the replanting need not necessarily be in the same place. One hopes that replanting will be possible. Where it is not, we must of course try to retain the trees for as long as possible. 543 The general burden of the report is that we need not look forward to a general reduction in the world's forests. The trees will eventually die. If the land where they have grown is not fruitful for further trees, that would mean a pessimistic future of being unable to continue with the present world acreage unless other land is available.
I of course take the noble Lord's point. I declare an interest in being the owner, on a small scale, of ordinary forestry—not tropical—in this country. I am therefore familiar with replanting problems here which of course are different from those abroad.
Tropical hardwoods have specialised uses. They form a valuable resource for the countries of origin, which can also earn hard currency. They are a renewable resource and should be treated as such, subject to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. That means securing enlightened forestry policies over long periods. Hardwoods (broadleaved trees), in contrast to soft woods, take a long time to reach maturity. Planning has to be for 100 or 200 years ahead. I remind your Lordships in passing, because sometimes it is forgotten by the public, that paper and newsprint are the products of fast-growing softwoods (conifers) and that hardly any paper is manufactured from tropical forests. That point is sometimes overlooked.
I was glad to hear—I hope that it is correct—that the voluminous White Paper that came out last month was produced on recycled paper. I do not know how many times that paper was recycled, but I am sure that the original paper came from softwoods, probably from North America and Scandinavia if not from this country.
In some of the tropical forest countries there is strong pressure for more land for basic agriculture. Populations are growing at a rate far greater than those of the industrialised nations. I shall say no more on that subject today other than to point out that that problem, as well as others, would be alleviated by reductions in the birth rate.
In present circumstances, one can understand the governing regimes in the countries concerned giving high priority to the short-term need to increase food production rather than to long-term forestry policies. That could lead to serious effects on the atmosphere unless the policies have been formulated with long-term considerations for the environment.
What are the practical ways in which we in Europe can help? In the debate which I initiated last December on environmental problems, I asked the Government for the latest information on the TFAP —the tropical forestry action plan—which is now five years old. The Minister was not in a position to tell me much then. However, recent press reports have revealed dissension within the organisation. It appears that the British Government, the United States Government and others are pressing for changes in the programme and threatening withdrawal of financial support. This is a programme which is supervised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a specialist 544 agency of the United Nations. The reasons which are given in the press are that environmental considerations are not being given the right priorities. On reading those press reports, my reaction is to support the British and United States governments in their stand. There is no point in an international plan, with large national contributions, if it is not saving or replacing the tropical forests.
The White Paper last month mentioned the latest position on pages 51 and 52. There the Government speak of strengthening and reforming the TFAP. The reports in the press were more of withdrawal than reforming. I hope that the Government can bring us up to date today as to whether the plan continues as it was originally intended, whether it can be reformed or whether the Government, with others, are considering withdrawing. If the TFAP is proving ineffective or positively harmful, the EC, with the United States, should deal directly with the countries concerned. In development aid from the EC there are about 90 projects involved with forestry. The report points out that these should be monitored and assessed to ensure that what is intended is being done and that it is best for the environment.
The EC and individual member states belong to the International Tropical Timber Organisation, ITTO. This has a role to play in identifying tropical hardwoods which can be traded in without damage, because of their places of origin and because the forestry regimes there can sustain and renew the sources. It will be of special interest to see the results of the feasibility study now being undertaken by ITTO on a system of labelling tropical hardwood products. I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Caithness, when replying to the debate, could give us any further information on progress on that point. If it is found that there are objections or difficulties in a formal system of identifying the origin of hardwoods, I hope nonetheless that reliable guidance will be made available to all firms and the public, particularly those who are worried as to whether they should use certain hardwoods.
The sub-committee has pointed to the dwindling number of people with expertise in tropical forestry management in Europe. There are still some who worked in countries abroad before they were granted independence and for periods after that, before retiring or handing over. The report recommends measures to maintain that expertise and to build upon it with education and training. I agree entirely with the hope expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the high priority suggested in the report will be noted by our Government and others.
Most of the tropical forests are in independent countries. Interference could be resented. In the interests of protecting the balance in the world's atmosphere, the co-operation of those countries and their confidence must be sought with sensitivity. Replacement of mature trees, felled for use—not burnt or allowed to decay—will increase the absorption of carbon dioxide. That is the key message to be conveyed. Above all, unthinking destruction of these forests without renewal must be stopped.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Baroness White
Of all the environmental impacts studied, deforestation probably poses the most serious problems for the world, particularly for the developing world".My Lords, I quote from a report delivered to the President of the United States a decade ago; the date was 1930. Two years later an international campaign to save the world's tropical forests was launched by several major conservation organisations. Since then, the subject has remained high on the international agenda.
What concerns many of us today is how much significant progress has been made in the past decade. There has been ample talk and discussion, but what have been the substantial results? As a member of the sub-committee which studied the matter, I should like strongly to endorse the tributes already paid to our chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. We could not have had a more experienced or better informed leader and I am sure that he must feel a certain gratification at the tributes which have been paid to him this morning. We were also fortunate in our specialist adviser, David Baldock.
For myself, two aspects of the tropical forest challenge seem to be of special significance. I have just touched on one of them: the time it takes to stimulate effective action on a large enough scale. The other aspect which I find very disturbing is the social effect of deforestation or of ill-considered re-afforestation on local inhabitants of countries in the third world.
As the report under discussion was submitted to your Lordships by the European Communities Select Committee of the House, a third consideration which is germane especially to ourselves is: to what extent is it possible for European Community member states to improve their performance through co-ordinated action in the areas of the world most at risk?
At the outset of our investigation I became concerned about the widespread, complex, international bureaucracy which claims an interest, a share, a stake in the tropical forest scenario. The most senior organisation in terms of age—so we were informed—is the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations, which has existed for more than 100 years. However, it is more active in the developed than in the developing world. On a more contemporary level, a variety of focal points complicate the scene almost beyond belief.
We in the European Community are of course concerned with a series of debates in the European Parliament, which we have been told is discussing the subject this very day, possibly at this very hour. The previous full dress debate on the matter was held in 1988, and at Strasbourg there is the keenest interest in the subject.
However, the most disturbing item of evidence put before the committee was the inadequate staffing in these matters at the Commission level in Brussels. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who will address us shortly, will understand, it is in Brussels where one expects action as opposed to talk. It will be interesting to discover whether my noble friend can enlighten us on whether any improvements have been made on this issue. When we took evidence, almost 12 months ago, 546 we were told that there was only one member of staff in the commission office in Brussels who had any forestry experience or qualifications. However, he was on a temporary engagement and his post had been funded by our own Overseas Development Administration, which had become disturbed at obtaining no specialised co-operation from the Commission. That funding was a helpful gesture on the part of the ODA, but it hardly provided an adequate establishment to co-ordinate the well-meaning assistance of the member states of the Community. I hope that the noble Lord who is to speak from the Government Front Bench will also be able to enlighten us as regards the present position.
Some countries, including the United Kingdom, understandably consider that bilateral aid is in many circumstances to be preferred to multilateral aid, partly because of the complex bureaucracy which multilateral aid may involve. Bilateral aid is particularly desirable when help is being directed towards areas where we have had close experience, as in our own Commonwealth, or in countries with which we have had well established trading relationships. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has already emphasised, in some countries we can still rely on staff who have been trained for our own overseas services. However, this is a rapidly diminishing element, as many have reached, or are reaching, retirement age. The shortage of trained and experienced staff is a key point in our report and can hardly be over-emphasised.
On the international scene the multiplicity of focal points is bewildering and must inevitably cause delays. Noble Lords have only to read the first day's evidence in the appendices to our report to appreciate that point. Some 67 countries, large and small, are listed as participating in the tropical forestry action plan. Each of these countries has its own physical, demographic, economic and political characteristics. It is difficult to imagine that one can deal satisfactorily with all those factors at the kind of level that has been contemplated in recent years.
There is so much talk on this matter. In the evidence we have listed a series of international conferences. We compiled the list some 12 months ago, but I am sure that the conferences have not ceased to be held in the interim period. Conferences have taken place in Rome, Tokyo, Vienna, Amsterdam, Washington DC, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. All those countries hosted meetings within a few weeks or even days of one another at this time last year. Those meetings have no doubt been repeated more recently in some form or another within the past 12 months.
United Nations organisations are, of course, conspicuous in this field. My experience is now out of date but I personally never considered the Food and Agriculture Organisation to be the most tightly organised bureaucracy in the world. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, smiles. Therefore I think he agrees with me. However, that body has a significant input in the discussion programme on tropical forests, as do other United Nations 547 organisations, for example the United Nations Development Programme. In the middle of the web sits the largest spider in the form of the World Bank. It can indeed lay claim to expertise as it has a relatively large qualified forestry staff. However, it may be as much concerned with debt redemption, or debt swap as it is termed, as with trees.
If I occupied some official position in a tropical country with a forestry problem, I should confess to a sense of confusion. In addition to the United Nations and non-governmental bodies, there is also the International Tropical Timber Organisation, to which reference has already been made. That organisation contains both traders and producers. We queried how effective that body is. It seems clear in any case that it is the council of that body which wields any authority that the organisation has. The other members of the organisation just appear to gather together to talk. In Whitehall we have some departmental overlap. However, anything we can do to simplify the international cat's-cradle of organisations would surely be of value.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Royal Geographical Society sustains a lot of activity in tropical areas and has done so for the past 30 years? It probably has the best qualified forestry investigators of any country in the world.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I do not for one moment fail to acknowledge the excellent work which has been carried out by various organisations, both public and voluntary, in particular situations. However, what worries me is that the totality of the effort that is being carried out may not produce results that are commensurate with the time and resources spent on endless consultations, conferences, seminars and other such things.
I wish to turn briefly to the other aspect of this matter which has caused a good deal of heart-searching among the members of the sub-committee. This matter concerns the effect, and sometimes the deep distress, that may be caused to indigenous populations of areas of tropical forest where, for commercial or other reasons, their pattern of life is seriously disturbed and in some circumstances destroyed. How should those of us who live in countries which are not directly responsible for this situation help to influence the fate of those populations for the better? I thought it might interest your Lordships to hear a brief quotation from an article which appeared on 15th September in the New Scientist magazine. It is germane to our anxieties on this point. The article refers to Rajiv Gandhi's national reforestation programme carried out in India in 1985. The article states:Gandhi began what is perhaps the world's largest reforestation programme aiming to reforest 5 million hectares of degraded land per year. The Indian Government claims to have reforested nearly 12 million hectares between 1980 and 1989. That is an area the size of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark put together. Most of the trees planted were species of commercial importance, such as eucalyptus, for the pulp and paper industry. They are of no use to most people who are desperate for fuel wood, bedding and fodder for their animals. The reforestation was largely on private land. The 548 programme neglected the so-called common lands upon which the poor Indians depended for grazing for their animals and for collecting fuel wood. These are still as barren today as they were in the early 1980s. The Government scheme failed to prioritise lands"—I emphasise that I am quoting—scheduled for reforestation. The more fragile ecosystems —the hill and mountain regions—came second to the reforestation of the plains".So it goes on. If a sophisticated administration such as that in the Indian sub-continent can make such errors of judgment it is not surprising that less experienced third world governments and administrations do not always follow the best path or find the best solutions for their people.
I am left, as many of those who served on the committee and those who may have done us the honour of reading our report must be, feeling that the complexity of these problems is still extremely baffling and that very serious concerted efforts are still required if we are to come anywhere near finding solutions.
Finally, I should like to refer to the last item printed in our report. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, has already paid eloquent tribute to the work done at Kew, sentiments with which I am sure we would all agree. It is an admirable centre and has rightly played a considerable part and provided a service to those all over the world who are concerned with finding the best science-based remedies for the problem that we have been discussing this morning. It was at Kew on 6th February this year that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales gave an address on the rain forests. That address is reprinted as the final item in our report.
It may be the first occasion on which a royal address has been included as evidence in the report of a Select Committee of this House. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who is such an authority on parliamentary matters and may have other examples in mind. However, I would be willing to wager a small amount that this is the first occasion on which that has happened.
In conclusion, I shall venture to quote a few phrases from Prince Charles's speech on that occasion. He said:the more carefully you examine the subject the more complex the issues become, and the more disturbing the ramifications… I suspect there is also a growing realisation that we are literally the last generation which can save the rain forests from total destruction… the phrase 'Now or never' has never been used with more chilling accuracy than when applied to the task of saving the remaining rain forests".
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, we are all now well aware of the appalling rate of the current loss of tropical forests. Various estimates have been made: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds worked out not long ago that it was about 30 football pitches a minute; the environment White Paper states authoritatively in paragraph 4.18 that an area about one and a half times the size of England is cut down or burnt each year. If nothing changes, it has been suggested that the Amazon rain forest could be gone 549 in 10 years and all the world's tropical forests in 50 years. That would be an unparalleled disaster—the loss of over half the earth's species of plants, birds and animals and unique resources such as vital medicines.
There is now widespread concern about this all over the world, but that concern is not yet translated into effective action. The 1988 annual report of the executive director of the United Nations environment programme put it very effectively. He said:Government institutions, NGOs and the public at large are increasingly raising their voices to urge action to reverse the increasing destruction and degradation of forests in temperate and tropical zones. But there is no sign of any abatement of forest destruction at the field level, despite the relatively new and urgent grounds for urgent action: the links between forests and climate change; the need to protect biological diversity; the relationship between crops and their wild relatives; and the potential benefits of medicinal plants as yet unknown to modern science".It is worth taking very careful note of that point.
Moreover, a report being debated today in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which incidentally criticises what it describes as the "wait and see attitude of the Commission", points out that an ITTO study has established that only 0.2 per cent. of commercial tropical logging is conducted on a sustainable basis. If that is true it shows how very far we are from stemming the tide of destruction.
I was very grateful for the opportunity to take part in the study by the committee under the stimulating chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. Our report is of course restricted to commenting on the Commission's communication on the conservation of tropical forests. Nowadays more and more of our policies are made in Brussels. In the last few days we have heard a great deal about the exchange rate mechanism. After shivering on the bank the Government have jumped into the river and are being borne down towards the Niagara of a common currency while protesting that they have retained freedom to swim in any direction that they choose. However, in this instance, the Community is in the driving seat on an international environmental problem such as this. It was therefore wholly appropriate that we should consider the problem in a Community context.
As I see it, the Community is taking ever-increasing responsibility for environmental matters. The Single European Act includes environmental matters in the Community's remit. The EC is signing in its own right a wide range of environmental conventions. It used to sign as a "regional economic integration organisation" but it now signs, for example, the 1988 Basel convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, as a "political and/or economic integration organisation". The Spanish fishing case reminds us that courts may be able to suspend the UK Parliament's national legislation where it is challenged as incompatible with Community law. A 1989 report entitled Environmental Policy and 1992 prepared by Nigel Haigh and our specialist adviser, who helped us so much, David Baldock, says:By accepting a division of competences, HMG is recognising that something akin to a federal system exists in 550 the EEC … for Britain it is now accepted that a significant proportion of its environmental legislation is made through the EC legislative process".If that is true, and I believe that it is, there is a consequent responsibility on the part of the Community to ensure that environmental policy is properly resourced, considered and implemented throughout the Community's directorates. We have to ask ourselves whether the Community is fulfilling its environmental responsibility adequately, particularly in relation to this question of tropical forests. Those who read our report will see scattered about in it expressions of doubt as to whether the Community is fulfilling its responsibilities. Here I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady White, has just said.
For example, the tiny staff of the environmental directorate is referred to in our committee's opinion on page 23. In paragraph 99 we say:The relevant services of the Commission have few staff with a professional training in tropical forestry and appear not to be planning to recruit more".I am struck by the failure of the Community so far to implement environmental impact assessments. For example, the ODA, in evidence to our committee, on page 2 of the evidence at question 8, said:There have been no thorough evaluations of the Community's forestry assistance of the kind which would be needed to formulate a balanced assessment of the effects of these programmes. HMG continues to urge the Commission to increase the resources put into evaluation of projects and programmes".The ODA also said (it is in the evidence on page 24):the Tropical Forestry Adviser whom we have supplied to the Commission … is not aware of any formal environmental impact assessments carried out on the EC projects in the lists we have provided".I believe that all Community projects and policies should be subject to environmental impact assessments; otherwise, it is inevitable that policies and projects at times may do the exact opposite of what we all want them to do. In practice the structural funds often finance damage to the environment. We gave examples in our report (in the evidence on page 66 at question 8) where Community funds in fact can accelerate forest exploitation, as in Equatorial Guinea, and where Community funds can finance forest clearance for palm oil plantations.
The Community imports one-fifth of its soya beans from Brazil where forests are cleared to plant such crops. The Community has financed smelters in the Amazon and the common agricultural policy sometimes results in the collapse of commodity prices in the third world. That stimulates the flight of farmers to the forests. The Commission ought quickly to put right that situation.
All over the world others are putting environmental assessment right at the head of the agenda. There was a decree even by the Supreme Soviet in November 1989 which began:Beginning with 1990 all projects and programmes will be subject to state financing only on condition that the project is recognised as satisfactory during the environmental expertise process".551 The World Bank seems to be far more advanced. For example, it says:In fiscal 1989 the board approved 81 projects in the Africa region. As part of its work programme, the Environmental Division … reviewed and cleared all of these projects for environmental concerns before they were negotiated with the Borrower".The UN environment programme is making a huge effort to co-ordinate its work and activities within the rest of the UN agency system; namely, WHO, FAO, UNESCO, and so on. A similar effort needs to be made within the Community.
In the circumstances that I have described it is perhaps not surprising that the Houston summit of world leaders should have looked primarily to the World Bank to take the lead in making arrangements in Latin America; nor that the British and German governments apparently share a concern about the Commission's lack of expertise and capacity in the forestry sector.
As my noble friend Lord Vernon pointed out earlier, the fundamental problem is the enormous growth in world population. Much depends on the governments of the developing countries in which the tropical forests are found. Half of the forests are in Brazil. Having heard that radical new policies had been brought in by the government of Mr. Fernando Collor, which took office in March, I consulted the Brazilian Embassy. It sent me a very helpful response, pointing out that a number of policies had already been adopted and that four organisations had been united to form a body called IBAMA which is specifically charged with supervising environmental policies.
It was also pointed out that fiscal incentives for deforestation had been abolished; that all land developments over 1,000 acres are required to present IBAMA with an environmental impact assessment for approval; that 121 IBAMA checkpoints had been set up at strategic locations to prevent contravention of environment laws; and that in the course of those activities the authorities had imposed fines to the value of 15 million US dollars. Before that, no punishment had been imposed on those who had broken the environment laws. The demarcation of Indian lands had also been speeded up.
Since Mr. Collor took office he has appointed a secretary of state for the environment, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, pointed out, and ecological matters have been given the highest priority. Clandestine airstrips used by miners in the Yanomami archipelago were being destroyed and so the government were forcing the goldminers to leave the Yanomami areas and move towards the prospectors' reserves, created earlier this year outside the Yanomami archipelago. They have also accelerated plans for land reform.
That shows that the Brazilian Government are making a determined effort, which we should applaud. We should do all that we can to help. They point out very reasonably that ecological issues cannot be studied in isolation from the miseries of malnutrition, 552 illiteracy and the ravages of tropical diseases. Therefore they believe that special mechanisms need to be devised to increase available resources to developing countries and to broaden their access to environmentally sound technologies. We should help in that. Every year Brazil has to find jobs for another 3 million people who are newly arrived on the labour market. The problem is extraordinarily difficult for countries like that, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, quite rightly pointed out.
In the light of the remarks made by the Prince of Wales in February, which were quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady White, we ought to re-examine every aspect of what we do. The committee's report thoroughly analysed the problem but I fear that its recommendations on what should be done will strike many people as tentative and cautious. Evidently they did so strike my noble friend Lord Vernon. One could ask whether the tropical forestry action plan is good enough. Surely it is not. In July the Houston summit urged that the plan should be reformed. Is the International Tropical Timber Organisation, with just eight full-time staff, anything like powerful enough? Again, the answer is surely not.
I believe that we ought to control demand in the industrial countries. We should institute alternative supplies, restrict the importation of particularly endangered species (for example, through CITES), improve forestry education in the countries concerned, support fuelwood plantations and assist in alternative technologies.
Surely the developed countries have a responsibility not to take advantage of local corruption. In that context, some noble Lords may have seen the article on Sarawak in the Economist of 18th August. We must consider what are the responsibilities of Western and Eastern countries in these circumstances and ask whether a code of conduct is anything like enough.
If a British ship spills oil off a country's coast, half a dozen conventions come into operation so that it requires compensation and action by Britain. But if a British, Japanese or French company devastates that same country's forests, it has no responsibility beyond compliance with local law. I suggest that we ought to consider linkage with the proposed convention on habitats and species protection, which is inextricable from the survival of the tropical forests. There is an urgent need for support for national parks. We should consider new products from the tropical forests—for example, perennial wild maize has been found by researchers in the remaining shreds of a disappearing rain forest. New mammals are being discovered, such as the golden bamboo lemur, found in Madagascar in 1988. We ought to encourage "debt for nature" swaps and we need a comprehensive Community review of the effects of the common agricultural policy on third world commodity producers.
Our own Government have got the message and the Prime Minister's commitment at the United Nations in November 1989 of £100 million is significant and welcome. It was a bold step and deserves congratulation. It is all the more important for the Community to catch up with the UN environmental 553 programme, the IUCN and the World Bank and to co-ordinate its activities and not to blunt national initiatives like those of the UK and the Netherlands. We should keep the subject under review in this House. Perhaps it would be appropriate to debate it in, say, a year's time to see what progress has been made because it is an urgent problem and not something that can be left on one side.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, said that he would have preferred to be a little further down the list because he thought that his speech would have been better made at the end of the debate. I would have willingly swapped with him because practically everything that I noted down to say has been said by other people. Perhaps I shall put a slightly different slant on some of the points. I have spent the past two hours scoring out and adding to my notes and, if I am a little disjointed, perhaps noble Lords will forgive me.
First and foremost, like everyone else I should like to congratulate the committee and its chairman on the report which is full of valuable information. I was particularly interested in page 19 where the points in support of better management were well made. They were explained in paragraph 119 at the top of the list of conclusions and were emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook.
My noble friend Lady Nicol said that we were in this position a few hundred years ago. Our countryside was denuded of forests from the north of Scotland to the south of England all because of the need for wood for various purposes in an increasingly industrialised country. A few years ago, when I was in the Forestry Commission, I watched a plough in Caithness turning up the roots of a forest that was there a few hundred years ago. All hell is now let loose if you suggest replanting those forests.
Since the days of clearing the forests in this country, we have relied on imports which have become expensive, approaching £6,000 million to £7,000 million a year. That is what we pay for wood which no doubt comes from some of those countries that we have mentioned.
The point was made very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that this is all due to the world's rising population, which is approaching 6,000 million. Dr. Blaxter, the late head of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen and a nutrition expert, put the point very well in a recent article in The Lancet. It is not a question of if the population rises, but of when it rises. He gave a figure of between 7,000 million and 8,000 million by 2025. I have seen a figure given by another expert to the effect that it is more likely to be 10,000 million by 2030. Dr. Blaxter worked out—this is germane to the problem that we are discussing today—that in order to feed that size of population properly—he emphasised the word properly—we would need to increase the present units of agricultural production by two-and-a-half times.
I would like noble Lords to think about that figure because, in spite of all the advantages that we have 554 had over the past few years, particularly from the plant breeders, it would be difficult to increase the amount by anything like that figure. The question of taking land out of forestry to produce food must be considered. That enormous population will be crying out for food, heat and shelter. It will be difficult to avoid the problem unless, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, something drastic is done to preserve the forests in such a way that they can be used for both purposes.
I was in Brazil 20-odd years ago and was taken to see an area of forest that had been cleared, although it was not a rain forest area. I was surprised that the people had done nothing for the environment. They simply cleared a huge area. They were very proud of the crops and stock that they were carrying there, but they lost the great chance of combining forestry and agriculture in that area.
This year my wife and I took a holiday in Dominica in the West Indies. I am not much of a beach lounger and I spent my time looking at the agriculture and forests in that small West Indian country. I asked the forestry people in the Department of Agriculture there to show me their forests. Dominica rises very steeply and has rain forests growing up to 4,000 and 5,000 feet. I could hardly believe that in some areas the rainfall was as high as 400 inches a year.
The lack of management of those forests was quite extraordinary. The chap who accompanied me drove me up in a Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle. At one point, he could not get through and had to turn round and go back. I said, "If you had a Land Rover, you could go through there". He said "We had Land Rovers, but their service and spare parts were so bad that we had to stop using them". I was rather disappointed about that, but that is by the way.
Little or nothing in the forestry industry was done by local people. They had let one area to a Canadian company and another area to a Dutch company which came out and helped themselves. I said, "Don't you mark your trees? Don't you make any conditions?" to which the reply was "No, they just help themselves". I was rather disappointed. That small country which is doing its best to improve its financial situation and could have had a good forestry policy is doing nothing in that respect. I shall return to the question of management in just a few minutes.
I was then taken to see a lady who had a large garden and was interested in trees. She had planted a great number of trees in her garden, much lower down than the rain forests that I had visited. I was amazed at the speed at which trees grow in those countries. The lady showed me a pine—not a Scots pine, I am sorry to say—that she had planted 16 years ago. I have two pines in my garden that were planted 120 years ago, yet that pine was almost as big as them. It was not quite so tall, but it had as big a bole. I was very envious of that lady's garden and trees. Regeneration in those areas would be very easy with that kind of growth.
I do not want to start an argument with my noble friend Lord Shackleton, but I do not believe that the 555 replanting of those areas is impossible. How is it that trees are growing at present if they cannot be replanted? That matter should be looked into.
The other point that I should like to make concerns the tropical plants that are being destroyed in huge areas all over the world. I am friendly with Dr. Conrad Gorinsky who is a well-known researcher in the business of tropical plants for pharmaceutical work, among other things. He is worried about the destruction of those tropical plants all over the world. He says that if the problem is not investigated and attended to it will be bad for the world. We can do our bit to help.
I read in the report that in Brazil 25 million hectares were cleared in one year. This country is almost that size and it is an enormous area to cover in one year. Someone quoted an annual average figure of between 16 million and 18 million hectares. One may say that planting in this country is just a flea bite. I am not so sure because every little helps. We are the least afforested country in Europe and we should try to double our acreage. That would not take us much above the level of that of other countries in Europe.
I return to the question of the help that we can give in training and management. We have a good forestry industry and two first-class research stations in the Forestry Commission. I am certain many people are given sabatical leave to other countries to see how their knowledge can help and what knowledge that can gain, particularly as regards the type of trees that should be planted. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is now in his place and I reiterate that I cannot believe that the land he described cannot be replanted. Again, I congratulate the committee on its excellent report.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I was yet another of those privileged to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, during the inquiry which led to the report. I do not use the word "privileged" lightly. Many noble Lords have described his skill in steering Sub-committee F through the complexities of Community proposals for environmental legislation. His knowledge as a scientist always gave a particular precision to his questions to witnesses as it did to deliberations on draft reports. Those of us on the Select Committee will confirm that he was eagle-eyed in spotting the environmental implications of draft reports from other sub-committees. We were all sorry to hear that the inquiry would be his last. However, we were of course delighted to hear that his expertise was being recognised in his appointment to the Nature Conservancy Council.
As we all know, the subject of tropical rain forests is huge and of immense importance. The committee's only role was to look at what the European Community could do to help. It was obviously vital to keep sight of the whole picture and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was particularly well able to do that. I do not propose to dwell for long on the desperate danger facing a high proportion of the tropical forests. 556 As is pointed out in the report, that means not only the rain forests—their plight has received the most publicity—but also the dry forests in such places as Africa, Burma and north Thailand.
As the Worldwide Fund for Nature pointed out to us, tropical forests cover only 5 to 7 per cent. of the earth's land surface yet probably contain more than 60 per cent. of all species. Apart from acting as reservoirs for biological diversity tropical forests are essential for moisture and erosion control. They also provide food, shelter, medicines and fuel to nearly 150 million people who live within them or on their margins. Globally, hundreds of millions more people utilise tropical forest products.
Estimates of the rate of deforestation vary although World Bank figures suggest that of the 33 countries now exporting tropical timber only 11 will still be doing so in the year 2000 while the commerical value will have fallen from 8 billion to 2 billion US dollars. Every year commercial logging operations encroach upon 50,000 square kilometres of tropical rain forests, an area roughly the size of Denmark. This implies that 500,000 square kilometres of forest will be lost by the year 2000; that is an area roughly the size of France.
It is clear that there has been a decade of destruction, with the short-term interests of loggers, ranchers and consumers in industrialised countries taking priority over the protection of forest peoples, species or the environment in general. At the time the Commission drew up its green paper there were few hopeful signs. That may be why the green paper is so long on analysis and so short on specific proposals. It is true that this is a complex area where the sensitivity of the exporting countries needs to be taken into account and where it will not be easy to reconcile the various conflicting interests. But our report shows that the Community has such economic and political weight that, acting wisely, it can have an enormous part to play on the international stage.
The cautious Commission approach now looks curiously dated. The recent report to the European Parliament by Mrs. Santos of the development committee rightly criticises its "wait and see" attitude. There have been many hopeful signs ever since our report was agreed. It is not often that a delay in debating a report is welcome but this is one of those occasions.
What then is the current situation? In Brazil the tide seems to be turning. The timber export route through north-west Amazonia to the Pacific will not now be built. Reserves to protect the natural state of the forest are being opened. The rate of forest burning is no longer increasing. Meanwhile in the Community the Council of Ministers gave a positive if tentative response to the Commission's green paper and so opened the way to collective action by member states. The Houston summit of the G7 top industrial nations was even more constructive with talk of projects to support sound forestry practices and preserve biodiversity.
The international climate now seems ripe for a new international agreement to be prepared—it has 557 already been referred to as a global forestry agreement —though it is not clear whether it would supersede or sit alongside the arrangements under the international tropical timber agreement and the tropical forestry action plan, both of which have been valuable but have their limitations. Now is the time for the Community to use its undoubted economic and political power to press for legislation at international level to encourage sustainable management of the forests. With the trend towards political co-operation between member states in all kinds of spheres there is no reason why this should not be successful. But to do so the Community needs what could be called environmental credibility. It can hardly preach sustainable development and call for the conservation of forest wildlife and plants when its own development projects are so sketchily monitored.
Commission-sponsored projects, unlike those of the World Bank, hardly seem to take environmental considerations into account. Perhaps our Government's new plans for a "green" Minister in each government department might be emulated in Brussels in each directorate-general in the Commission. This monitoring must take account of the needs of indigenous people whose whole way of life is threatened by deforestation. Of course, the European Community cannot interfere in the internal affairs of the countries concerned but its commitment to human rights means that its views must be voiced.
The protection of the indigenous peoples and the protection of the forests go hand in hand. It is the peoples of the forest who know it and who know how best to use their biological riches to the greatest advantage. This can be of immense value to the countries concerned and something which at last is being recognised by national governments. Therefore, today there is just a hopeful sign that the skills of the indigenous populations are being recognised before it is too late.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, like most noble Lords who have spoken, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and those who served with him on his committee on what is an excellent report.
I am glad to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who was somewhat scathing in his criticism of the European Commission as was, perhaps to a lesser extent, my noble friend Lady White. As a former commissioner and in the light of those criticisms, I wish to stress the word "former" because I am not answerable for the alleged inadequacies of my former brothers. They were all brothers in those days but now there are two sisters. Some of the criticisms are certainly made out, a matter to which I shall wish to refer in a moment. However, in answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, about the Commission emulating the practice of the present Government in ensuring that someone from each directorate general is keeping an eye on environmental issues, that has been done over a number of years since the Community accepted in principle the Commission's Fourth Environmental Action Programme. Therefore, it is not a question of the 558 Commission emulating the Government but rather the Government having emulated the Commission. That is no bad thing but I thought I should put the record straight.
As regards criticism of the Commission, I believe it is extremely accessible and willing to accept positive criticism which is designed to improve what it can do. In that regard I believe that the reputation of this House stands extremely high. Indeed. I can say that from first-hand experience. It is likely to be extremely helpful to Directorate General VIII, which is in the lead here in dealing with development, and also to Directorates General I and XI if authoritative criticisms are made, as in this report, which can only strengthen their hand in seeking to procure additional resources. Those directorates general are starved of the resources which they require. It is for member states, quite as much as for the Commission or the European Parliament, to help to put that right.
Another criticism is made that the main focus is on the forest areas covered by the Lomé countries. This is where the main strength of the Commission lies because of the Lomé agreements and the countries with which those agreements have been made over a number of years. It is natural that resources should be mainly deployed there. The fact is that resources available for Asia and elsewhere are very limited indeed and in many instances more recently have been concentrated in Central America. I do not believe that that is at all bad. However, the reality is that resources are still hopelessly inadequate. Again, that is a budgetary matter which the Commission cannot put right.
Certainly, the criticism that the Commission should have, at the very least, referred to the report of the European Parliament is a valid criticism. Indeed, it is very unwise for the Commission not to make reference to such a report because at the end of the day relations between the Commission and the European Parliament are rather important, not least because the European Parliament has the ultimate power to sack the Commission. I do not believe that the development committee will have taken kindly to that omission.
So, from my own experience I would say that the sort of pungent and worthwhile positive criticisms expressed in this report will be welcomed by those in the Commission who are seeking to procure additional resources, particularly in the area of policies affecting tropical forests.
Back in 1987—and I do not believe that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was then dealing with environmental matters, although I did have great pleasure in working with him as the representative of Her Majesty's Government on environmental matters for about a year—the Fourth Environmental Action Programme was agreed in principle and the Commission (and this was largely the work of DGXI) set out very clearly the significance of dealing with the tropical forests. Paragraph 7 of that action programme states that,throughout history, they have been essential sources of food, fuel, shelter, medicines and many other products. They 559 sustain people and their environments by protecting soil and water resources; they have a profound influence on climate and on global natural cycles; they contain an estimated 50 per cent. of the world's plant and animal species. Because tropical forests benefit people in so many ways, the alarming rate of forest destruction is a matter of grave concern".It continues:Scientists estimate that some 40 per cent. of the biologically-rich tropical moist forests have been cleared or degraded already. Some 11 million hectares are being lost each year. In many developing countries tropical forests will all but disappear in two or three decades if present trends continue".Certainly back in 1987 the Commission was in the forefront of those who were adverting the need for action to be taken at Community level to deal with those quite appalling problems.
Of course, as the Commission said, the rate of destruction is truly alarming and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation concludes that, for example, the Ivory Coast has lost 70 per cent. of its forests since the turn of the century; Ghana has lost 64 per cent.; Liberia has lost 69 per cent.; and estimates affecting Amazonia suggest that if the present losses continue 5 million square kilometres of jungle will have disappeared within the next 50 or 100 years.
That destruction also poses a massive threat to our richest and most diverse ecosystems, contributing, as other noble Lords have already pointed out and as is pointed out in the report, to the greenhouse effect with the accompanying release of massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
As my noble friend Lady Nicol said, I believe that we should put the responsibility for that situation into perspective. By far the most significant contribution to global warming comes from the developed countries in the patterns of energy use which they deploy. United States policies in North America have led to the virtual elimination of the temperate rain forests in Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington. In Central America, the United States industrial interests have been largely responsible for the massive deforestation which has occurred there. Timber companies, construction firms and powerful utilities from North America and indeed from Europe have all played their destructive roles in the environmental degradation which has taken place and which continues so to do.
It would be unjust to describe all these enterprises in the same way. Some have a positive record. Some take account of the environmental and social impact. However, I believe that the major criticism which I and indeed many others have made has been substantially made out. In the past at least inadequate consideration has been given to environmental and social impact.
Accompanying those depredations are the struggles of the indigenous people simply to survive. In order to survive they are compelled to take actions which are destructive of their environment in the longer term and indeed even in the medium term and which affect also our own environment in consequence.
560 Those people are often subjected in many places, not least in Amazonia, to the tyrannical rule of rapacious landowners, who engage in savage repression eliminating all opposition to the nefarious system of land tenure that frequently applies. Frequently that is done with the support of the local or national military. I understand that a similar situation to that in Brazil seems to appertain in Sarawak.
I believe, therefore, that the report is absolutely right to focus on, among other things, the question of justice for indigenous people as being the touchstone for all policies in this area. Their future, their demands, their hopes are indivisibly linked with our future aspirations. I believe that in the Amazon area no solutions can be found without respecting basic human rights, and without ending the bondage of debt enslavement, violence and death which is brought upon the indigenous people by those who seize lands from them. The murder of Chico Mendes, that extraordinary environmentalist and radical leader of the indigenous people, tragically evidences that fact. Even today his assailant, who has been identified, has escaped trial and punishment.
I welcome paragraph 119 of the report, which says:The primary aim of the Community's strategy should be to support improved management of tropical forests and the areas which surround them. It is essential to develop locally appropriate forms of natural forest management to ensure that the forests have a long term value as a source of income for local people".That could not have been said more succinctly and more relevantly. Development plans for the regions we are considering must be based on the cultures and traditions of the indigenous peoples. They understand only too well that the preservation of the environment and the improvement of their quality of life are indissolubly linked. Their local knowledge is vital in terms of the partnership which must emerge if together we are to use the forest to advance the notion of sustainable development.
Those people have a right to be full partners in the plans required to use yet also save the rain forests. The political economies which favour large landowners, who are largely responsible for imposing social and ecological ruin on their regions, must be reformed. A redistribution of resources and power is essential if the knowledge, culture and ideas of the indigenous people are to be cultivated to the full.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. He is quite right about indigenous people. However, they will need Western science. That is why the centre in Brunei of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is so important—so that there are scientists bringing modern scientific knowledge to bear on these problems.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for that intervention. It has been said many times—indeed, in my maiden speech in this House I drew attention to it—that it is necessary for developed countries to be able to deploy their expertise, technical and technological resources in the way that my noble friend has in mind. I fully 561 support his point. The indigenous people cannot do it alone. But they must be brought into these enterprises as partners. That is my point.
I conclude by saying that what is needed from the European Community today is a policy of much greater imagination than has so far been observed. The Commission has its part to play in reforming its ideas and playing its part in this ambitious enterprise. It is not a question of generosity; for we in this country and the West as a whole will be the beneficiaries of such policies if they are pursued with the necessary determination.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, I must first admit that my interest in this subject is not as somebody who is critical of everything that has gone before. It is inevitable that the various countries of the world and the traders of the world have used their resources to create the wealth and opportunity that their people needed. There is no doubt that people in this country have taken up our forests and farmed them—that is what sustainable management is; it is farming—to create the money and wealth for people over the past thousands of years.
That is a good thing. We are now in the fortunate position of having more wealth in the world and being able to take a more objective view of the opportunities in the future. I shall confine my remarks to the opportunities presented to us.
Opportunities exist because we possess the technology to farm these various tropical countries more effectively. We are learning all the time how to do that. We possess the technology to put into those countries energy resources which they have not had before so that they do not need to use their own resources to a great extent. There is the opportunity presented by the European Community possessing the wealth and the will to go out and help somewhere else in the world. There is also the opportunity referred to by many noble Lords in that there is now an understanding in many countries of the world that they must change their ways and look at the problem differently.
I should like those opportunities first and foremost to improve the wealth and well-being of all the people of those tropical countries. For far too long we did not appreciate that what we did had an impact on their wealth. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to the CAP and its impact. Only yesterday I read that the EC sold 80,000 tonnes of meat to Brazil at 1,200 dollars per tonne. That is around half the price at which Uruguay was supplying beef. It was prepared to supply 50,000 tonnes of beef to Brazil this year, but now it will not be able to do that. The impact of what we are doing over here by the overproduction of products that we no longer require, and by the dumping of those products on the world markets, does not help the situation in the areas we are attempting to support.
I also see that from those opportunities could come great benefits to us in Europe. We used tropical wood because it was cheaper than our own wood. When it 562 came to the economic use of land it was more important for us to obtain a return from land in Europe by producing foodstuffs than by producing timber. We therefore bought our timber from abroad. That is not necessary, as was very well put by the representatives of the timber trade. They were not able to say that a lot of the tropical hardwoods had any particular value in terms of their use. They were aesthetically nice, it was fashionable to use them, and they were cheaper.
If we can produce a situation where we make less use of tropical timber, the price of that timber may rise. With the reduced need for land in Europe to produce food it may then be cheaper to do more foresting here. I welcome the decision of the Minister for the Environment to promote a 150-acre forest in the centre of England. There are tremendous opportunities throughout Europe to return to producing much of our own timber.
Those are some of the opportunities presented to us in the circumstances in which we are now operating. How can we best utilise them? It would be worth while thinking of making some areas of tropical forest world forest parks. Why should not we in Europe use some of our resources to buy them? We need not buy them for cash. We could swap them for debt. In his lecture the Prince of Wales said that something like a £52 billion net loss is made by the tropical countries on what they take in because of the interest payments they must make.
It seems to me that the World Bank, which is very prominent in this scheme, as has been mentioned, could develop a scheme to transfer some of the debt into land, taking forest which would become owned by the whole of the world. In that way it would be available to be used and seen for a long time.
The next move I should like to see is an EC task force charged with the business of achieving certain objectives within a five-year period. Unless something of that nature is done then it would seem to me that the talking today will continue to be no more than talk for a long time to come. As has already been mentioned by, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, we have many experts throughout the world in all these matters who, within such a task force, could be brought together and perhaps use some of the finance that Her Majesty's Government are already making available. This task force should have a clear-cut aim to achieve certain objectives in specific countries within a limited period of time so that we know that effective action is being taken.
I believe, as all noble Lords have said, that there is a need to use the opportunities now presented to us to bring about a great change in the amount of tropical forest that is being destroyed. However, that must be done with the full understanding of the countries exporting the timber. I have great sympathy for Mr. Leo Chai of Sarawak, who wrote to the EC complaining that the people have to live and that they have a right to run their world in the way that they think fit.
563 However, we now see within those countries a greater understanding of the need for change. Surely we can see the tremendously welcome advantages for the people of those countries that can follow from the proper farmed use of the forests and the resources that they have. They are for all of mankind to use and the longer they can be kept for the benefit of the world then the more we shall all benefit from them.
I conclude by thanking my noble friend Lord Cranbrook for his excellent report. I have very much enjoyed listening to the debate and I hope that from it will come immediate action.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I join with all noble Lords who have paid tribute to the work of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and his colleagues in producing this excellent report. Indeed, only somebody of his international distinction in this subject could possibly have dared to chair such a well-informed committee. I tremble at the task of seeking to wind up from this Despatch Box after so many speeches from noble Lords who have not only been eloquent but are clearly enormously better informed about the subject than I can ever be.
Therefore, it is some consolation to me that it is not my duty today to repeat any of the major arguments made in the report but simply to seek to relate the report to public policy so far as this country is concerned. Noble Lords will no doubt be glad because that could cut down the length of time I take in speaking from this Dispatch Box.
I first outline briefly what I take as common ground in our consideration of this matter. I do not quarrel with the arguments which have been put forward that the European Community has a locus in this matter. It has a locus in terms of its interest in conservation generally; it has a locus as one of the three major importers of tropical hardwoods; it has a locus as being concerned with biodiversity, which is not simply a continental matter but a global matter; it has a locus as being concerned, as we all are in the world, with issues of climate change. It has a locus, after all, as being the continent which has unified the world as a whole over the past 500 years and brought Europe-led change to most of the tropical countries in the world. Therefore, I do not quarrel with the argument that the European Community should be taking a lead in these matters.
Nor do I quarrel with any of the technical estimates that have been made. They are truly terrifying. The fact that we are losing 16 to 18 million hectares of tropical forest every year and that at that rate tropical forests will be wiped out within 50 years must surely lead us to the conclusion that international meetings and reports from bodies, however distinguished, are by no means enough. Action is required in the form not just of finance but also of prohibition of certain of the practices which are causing this dreadful result.
I take as my starting point for our concern the same point as that made by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis in regard to the people living in these 564 forests. By the most narrow definition there are 140 million people living in the forests, many of whom are desperately poor. Most of the area is subject to land ownership on a grossly unequal scale. That might make it easier for us to follow the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and buy them in order to create national forests. I assume the assumption behind the noble Lord's suggestion is that there would be relatively few landowners. Above all, the people are dependent on the forests for their livelihoods and they are dependent on them in a way which is not always conducive to the survival of the forests.
In many cases the people have been driven to live in the forests because of the poverty in other parts of their countries. It is one thing to talk about indigenous populations living in an equilibrium state with nature but a large part of the population of the tropical forest areas is not like that. Many people are refugees from wasted land and a lack of livelihood in other parts of their country. It cannot be assumed that they are living in a state of equilibrium so far as the environment is concerned.
Therefore, our first concern, I suggest, must be for those people. That is confirmed not only by what we know of their condition but by the fact pointed out in the report that 83 per cent. of the wood removed from tropical forests is for non-commercial purposes such as firewood. Only 13 per cent. is for commercial purposes and only 4 per cent. for the international timber trade. I realise that removal of wood is not the same as the destruction of forests—of course, much of the removal of wood is perfectly sustainable—but even so the percentages make clear that the international timber trade, damaging as it may well be, is not the major cause of the degradation of the forests.
Our first concern, therefore, must be for the people. Our second concern must be sustainability, which must be fostered in every way that we can. That leads us to the discussions which have taken place since the publication of the report, particularly at the Houston meeting of the Group of Seven and at the Dublin summit.
I was enormously impressed by the fact that the Group of Seven took the view that there should be a binding convention to govern our relations with those countries who have tropical forests and the way in which we seek to support the tropical forests, and that such a binding convention should be in place certainly no later than the end of 1992. I understand that the position of the British Government some months ago —I shall be interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the present position—was that we would not opt for a separate binding convention but would seek to use international conventions on climate change. I suggest that that is not necessarily the best way because climate change is only one of the considerations which we should be bearing in mind when we look at the problem of tropical forests.
Now that the Houston meeting has confirmed that an independent and binding convention is the right course to take, with which Mr. Mustafa Tolba, the director of the United Nations Environment 565 Programme agrees, it is right for the Government to take the same view. Perhaps they do already. We have to consider what our reaction is to the tropical forest action programme and whether it is the only or the best way to channel aid from this country. I immediately pay tribute to the Government for the increase which has been made in funds for aid to the tropical forests.
I know that the Minister will be quoting the figures, but a twofold increase from 1988 to 1990 is not to be underestimated. The Government's initiative in increasing the figure is to be warmly welcomed. The Government's policy is largely to channel these funds through the tropical forest action programme. In view of the quite severe criticisms which have been made of the TFAP, I seriously wonder whether that is the right course to take failing quite radical reform of the programme. Radical reforms have been requested by a number of people, and not just by environmental pressure groups in this country. Independent reviews of the TFAB have also recommended radical reform.
It seems that in some parts of the world the TFAP is too much dedicated to commercial development and it is too little concerned with the issues of conservation, biodiversity and relationships with non-governmental organisations. Above all, it appears to be too little concerned with the interests of local people. I shall be interested to know whether we have the results of the review carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which were to be published this summer.
Failing a major review of the TFAP, we should consider finding other channels for our aid from this country to tropical forests. These are the major issues of public policy which face the Government. I have no doubt that we shall receive an authoritative and up-to-date exposition of this from the Minister today. I would not wish to anticipate any further what he has to say.
I cannot refrain from one final observation. I do not believe that the preservation of tropical forests is simply a matter of forestry. In view of the fact that at least 140 million people lead their lives and have their livelihoods in the forests, surely the way to stop the causes of destruction, and not simply the destruction itself, is to find a way of helping the people of the forests.
§ 1.53 p.m.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, this has been an excellent and a most useful debate. Undoubtedly, the reputation of your Lordships' House, with its expertise and detailed knowledge, has only been enhanced by what has happened today. I am particularly pleased, as a former environment Minister, to return in my new role to an issue of such critical importance. I am much looking forward to seeing some of the forests in the near future as a result of the new position that I hold.
The whole area of the environment will be central to the political world during the course of this decade. Noble Lords will know that the Government 566 published their White Paper on the environment last month. This was, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has said, the first comprehensive statement of government policy on the environment, ranging from the street corner to the stratosphere. It contains 350 actions and proposals. Each government department is nominating a Minister to follow through the White Paper proposals. Both wings of the FCO, the diplomatic wing and the ODA, will continue to pursue their environmental initiatives energetically. More details of the ODA's environmental work are set out in the booklet The Environment and the British Aid Programme published earlier in the year.
Tropical forestry is a key area of environmental concern. The Select Committee is to be congratulated on producing an excellent report. I wish to add my particular congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook on the excellent way in which he chaired the committee and for the report which it produced. The subject is a complicated one and the committee has addressed it in a careful and thoughtful way. I am pleased, on behalf of the Government, to give a very warm welcome to the committee's analysis and conclusions and take this opportunity to reply to it. I should like first to comment on one or two points in the report, and then to update the House on developments since it was published.
Deforestation is perhaps the gravest environmental threat facing the developing world. The committee's report provides a good analysis of its causes. The latest report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation suggests that 17 million hectares or more of tropical forest are currently being lost each year. That is one-and-a-half times the size of England, or nearly one football pitch each second. That rate is twice that of the late 1970s. We need forests to help maintain soil fertility, prevent erosion and protect watershed systems. Globally, our forests store vast quantities of carbon and house 90 per cent. of the planet's plant and animal species.
Tropical forests are concentrated in developing countries. It is those countries which will decide their fate. It is not for us to question the sovereign rights of developing countries to use their natural resources. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and my noble friend Lord Norrie were right in saying that we can help them to manage forests sustainably for the benefit of their own people and that of the wider community.
The debate on tropical forests is bound to range widely. It is a global issue with global consequences, which must be addressed on a broad front. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will agree with me that because it is a global issue, the scope for action in regional forums like the Community is limited. A truly international effort is needed. But I should like to focus for a few minutes on the European Community dimension, which was, after all, the reason for the Select Committee producing its excellent report in the first place.
The Government recognise and welcome the Community's involvement in tropical forestry issues. 567 There is a wide range of instruments available within the Community's aid programmes to help developing countries manage their forests better. There is of course always a need for more finance, but our primary objective is to ensure that the funds available through the Community are used as efficiently and effectively as possible. I may say also that we have some sympathy for the feeling of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which the committee reported, that the main restraint is often a shortage of good projects rather than a lack of funds.
The Government fully endorse the need for a co-ordinated Community strategy, as described in paragraph 13 of the committee's report. What this means is that different directorates in the Commission with an interest in these matters, including DG1, which is responsible for external affairs, DG8, which is responsible for development matters and timber commodity agreements, and DG11, which is responsible for environmental issues, must keep in close touch with each other and that sufficient professional resources are devoted to the issue in each directorate. The same goes for DG12, which looks after the science and technology for the development programme, including research on forestry.
I am glad to note some progress in this direction since the publication of the committee's report. DG8 now has an additional professional forestry specialist, provided by the Government of the Netherlands, who works closely with the British expert financed by the ODA. The noble Baroness, Lady White, will say that one more specialist is not enough. We shall continue to press the Commission to provide adequate staffing from within their own resources. Forestry was a major item on the agenda of the European Community Development Council in May when Ministers agreed a resolution covering forests, and we fully intend to ensure that the situation remains under constant review at ministerial level.
My right honourable Friend the Minister for Overseas Development asked particularly at the May Council that the tropical forestry action plan, about which I shall say more later, be discussed again by Ministers in the November Council, and she will make sure that it is.
My right honourable friend had discussions in Brussels on 24th September with all of the directorates-general involved in forestry and stressed the need for co-ordination. We are also ensuring that we contribute in other ways. For example, the committee's report touches at several points on human rights and environmental obligations in the fourth Lomé Convention. We are taking every opportunity to stress these during the discussions on programming for each recipient country. We are working to ensure not only that environmental impact assessments provided for under Lomé IV are implemented, but also that they are carried out in the Community's other aid programmes in non-Lomé countries.
568 In short, the priorities on the environment and tropical forests in the Community's aid programmes are the same as in our own bilateral programmes. They should be: the Community programme is also "our" programme. The Select Committee's report is a very helpful contribution to the debate over how our joint priorities can be realised.
I turn now to questions of trade. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, that commercial exports are an important consideration, but the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was quite right to remind the House that they are not the main cause of deforestation. Only 4 per cent. of the timber of the forest is exported. The great majority is cut and burnt on site. The Select Committee report examines various proposals for trade action to address the problem of deforestation. Many of these proposals do have a superficial attraction and are advocated, perfectly understandably, as a means of responding quickly to the problem. But, as the Select Committee rightly notes, they may merely succeed in exacerbating the problem they seek to address.
It is the Government's view that a critical element in securing sustainable management of tropical forests lies in persuading the countries involved to see those forests as an economic resource that requires careful nurturing. Trade restrictions, whether in the form of an outright ban or some form of additional levy, may have precisely the opposite effect. In so far as there were decreased returns from the timber trade, which we believe to be a likely consequence, they would create incentives for developing countries to use forested land for other purposes.
The Government believe that the key is to ensure that the timber trade is carried out on a sustainable basis. Here, we see a major role for the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), and I am glad to note that the committee endorses this role. The ITTO adopted at its last Council in Indonesia in May guidelines to ensure that forests are managed in a sustainable way. These guidelines built on work financed by the ODA, and the House will welcome the major initiative which followed. It was agreed that a target for the whole of the international tropical timber trade should be carried out on a sustainable basis by the year 2000. That is a realistic but nevertheless tough target. We will be ready to consider assistance to the timber-producing nations in planning how to implement it, including by helping with the preparation of detailed national guidelines for each country. That is something which many of your Lordships mentioned, including the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friend Lord Norrie.
The committee also offers kind words for the ITTO feasibility study of a labelling scheme for tropical hardwoods, and the Government's financial support for this project, a matter to which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy drew the House's attention. But the committee is entirely right to emphasise that the full co-operation and partnership of tropical countries is required if a reliable system of labelling is to be achieved. It cannot be overemphasised that co-operation, not confrontation, with the tropical 569 timber producers is the order of the day. When the International Tropical Timber Organisation was established in 1985, it was the Department of Trade and Industry which took the lead role for the United Kingdom. That role has just changed to the ODA, in reflection of the increasing developmental and conservation aspects of the ITTO's work. Both departments will of course continue to work closely together.
My noble friend Lord Cranbrook raised the question of the ITTO mission to Sarawak. No one was more fitted than my noble friend to lead the team carrying out this very difficult task; and no one could have done a better job. The mission's report presents a window of opportunity for the international community to help the Government of Sarawak and the Federal Government of Malaysia in carrying out their stated policy of the sustainable management of the Sarawak forests. We look forward to a constructive debate on the report at the ITTO council in Yokohama in November.
The committee made a brief reference to the debt problems of many developing countries, noting, quite correctly, that this is an area in which there is no Community competence. I would just like to say that we agree with the committee that debt problems need to be addressed in a co-ordinated way. A wider forum than the Community is required, and there will often be important roles for the IMF and the World Bank.
My noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton moved from debt per se to debt for nature swaps. I agree with him and say that the Government welcome debt for nature swaps which are agreed voluntarily between developing countries, conservation organisations and private sector holders of debt. But we do not believe that there is wide scope for the use of official aid resources in this way. It is our judgment that it is generally better to spend aid resources directly on environmental projects.
The committee made a number of suggestions on research and training. The proposal for the formation of a new network of tropical forest research sites is interesting, and we shall consider it closely. It would be important to avoid duplication with other initiatives, including the work of the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations and the proposed reorganisation of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research Centres intended to ensure that forestry is better addressed. Research is an area in which the United Kingdom has particular expertise, vested in particular in the Oxford Forestry Institute and the Universities of Bangor, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will recall that earlier in the year my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development announced an increase of 50 per cent. in the annual allocation of our research programmes.
On training, the committee is right to identify the declining number of foresters with practical experience of the tropics as a cause for concern. ODA has increased its in-house forestry expertise, both at senior levels and through our associate professional officer 570 scheme which gives developing country experience to recently qualified graduates. ODA's Natural Resources Institute is also expanding its forestry expertise and its corps of forestry specialists. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord John Mackie, that we will also continue to place priority on training for developing country personnel.
In brief, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that words were just not good enough and asked, "Where's the action?" Therefore, before closing, I should like to give the House a progress report on four other important areas: the tropical forestry action plan; the Government's own forestry initiative; proposals for a special EC and World Bank initiative in Brazil; and proposals for an international convention or protocol covering forests.
As the committee rightly points out, the tropical forestry action plan (TFAP) can be a useful mechanism for co-ordinating and enhancing aid. However, as the noble Lords, Lord McNair and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, reminded the House, the implementation of the TFAP in a number of countries has rightly been criticised for promoting logging without adequate environmental safeguards, and for failing to take enough account of the needs of local people dependent on the forests. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development called for the reform of the TFAP last November when she addressed the General Conference of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO. Shortly after, the FAO set up an independent review to examine the TFAP and make recommendations for reform. The review team reported in June. It made a number of recommendations which we broadly endorse.
In particular, the House will be pleased to know that we support the conclusion that the TFAP should not support the extension of logging without rigorous environmental safeguards. We welcome the proposal for new guidelines for the TFAP, and the suggestion that NGOs should be consulted in drawing them up. We agree that the TFAP needs a new management structure, to ensure that it is more open, accountable and effective.
The recommendations of the independent review were discussed at FAO's committee on forestry in September. Many of the recommendations were quickly agreed. One, on the need for a new management structure, caused the director of FAO some difficulty, but a timetable was agreed for assessing the options.
Therefore, in reply, perhaps I may reassure my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that we shall continue to work hard with all the parties to assist in the reform of the TFAP. We believe, along with tropical forestry countries, that we all need an effective mechanism if we are to achieve our shared interest in halting destructive deforestation and promoting reafforestation.
Britain has a record of aid to forestry of which we can be proud. In 1988 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that we would do more under the aid programme to promote the wise and sustainable 571 use of forest resources. Then we were financing 80 forestry projects at a cost of £45 million. Now we have almost 150 projects costing more than £60 million. These include more than 50 projects managed by British voluntary agencies like Oxfam and the World Wide Fund for Nature which we are helping to pay for.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for the welcome he gave to the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last November that we would aim to commit a further £100 million over the next three years. We already have 60 projects in preparation. These, and more, will be financed from the £100 million. I am able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that about £20 million of that sum has so far been committed to projects in Brazil, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
The declarations of both the G7 Houston summit and EC Dublin summit earlier in the summer called for special forestry initiatives in Brazil. Brazil was mentioned particularly by my noble friend Lord Norrie. It is perhaps the most important tropical forestry country and it is right that a special effort should be made there.
Britain recognised this last year when we signed our Memorandum of Understanding on technical co-operation on the environment with the Brazilian Government. This is the first agreement of its kind that Brazil signed with a developed country. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be visiting Brazil shortly to discuss our continuing collaboration. We welcome the multilateral initiatives too. The Government of Germany have offered to finance a conference in Brazil bringing together the World Bank, the European Commission and other interested donors with the Brazilian authorities to follow up the Houston and Dublin ideas by identifying specific forestry programmes. We hope that that will go ahead soon.
There have been a number of proposals for conventions and protocols to protect the world's forests. The G7 at the Houston summit called for a forest convention or agreement to be completed by 1992. The Government believe that this ties in with our own endorsement of earlier proposals through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for a forestry protocol attached to the climate change convention. As deforestation contributes 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the man-made greenhouse effect, we believe that the convention or its protocols should, if possible, address forests.
But there may also be a case for a more broadly based comprehensive forest agreement. That issue was discussed at the first preparatory committee meeting of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in Nairobi in August. As a result of the discussion, the secretary general of the conference was asked to consult with interested governments and international agencies on what the options might be. We have offered to help finance a 572 meeting to promote an exchange of views on that issue. We hope that the way forward can be agreed within the next few months.
I should like to take up one or two points made by your Lordships. One was made by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, who referred to the recent speech of the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme on Biological Diversity. That subject alone was of interest to many of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton, Lord John-Mackie and Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The Government firmly support proposals for such a convention, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said during her speech last November to the United Nations General Assembly.
We believe that the convention should focus on the conservation of habitats of high diversity. Developing countries will need financial assistance for conservation. We believe that the World Bank's proposed global environmental facility—which, as noble Lords who have seen this morning's Guardian will know, the Government welcome warmly—should play a key role.
My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam asked about biological diversity and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I wish to respond to him in detail by letter to set out the position more fully. The Government already finance a number of projects designed to conserve biological diversity in countries as diverse as Cameroon, Indonesia and Tanzania. We have projects nearing approval in Brazil. We have given a grant of £1.2 million in the current year to the WWFN, much of which is devoted to biological diversity conservation.
The conservation of biological diversity is an area where the ODA expects to increase its activities in the future. We have commissioned a series of strategic studies of the biological diversity of forests, coastal zones and oceans to identify activities for possible ODA funding. We expect those studies to be completed before the end of the year. Follow-up work will draw heavily on the expertise of British institutions, in particular centres of expertise such as Kew.
Research and development on the economic uses of the wide variety of forest products and drawing upon the expertise of local people will be an area of special interest. The ODA is funding attendance by specialists from Kew at a conference sponsored by ODA, ICI and the Government of Brazil in Brasilia in early November which my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be opening.
I hope that we shall have continuing debates on this vital issue. It warrants our urgent attention. The Select Committee has amply demonstrated that the House has a valuable contribution to make. Environmental issues will determine the future of our planet and our children. That demands our greatest efforts.
§ Lord Vernon
My Lords, before the Minister sits down will be clarify a statistic that he has given? He said that only 4 per cent. of the tropical forest wood was sold as timber overseas, and that the rest was 573 felled and burnt. Is he referring to tropical forests, as a whole or to the open forests, because I should have thought that in the case of the rain forests the proportion was rather higher than 4 per cent.? I am bound to say, however, that I do not know the figure.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I did not say that the remainder, other than the 4 per cent. was burnt. I said that the majority was. I refer the noble Lord to page 42 of the Committee's report.
§ 2.13 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, in winding up on behalf of my fellow members of the sub-committee who undertook this inquiry, I thank those of your Lordships who congratulated us on our work. I thank those members of the Select Committee who have taken part in the debate. I particularly welcome the contributions of others of your Lordships. Despite several repeated disclaimers, I welcomed the fact that your Lordships have once again demonstrated your perceptive analysis, experience and wide knowledge. I welcomed the contributions relating to the rain forests in Amazonia and Africa about which I have no experience or claim to expertise.
In relation to the field study centre that is to be set up in the primary rain forest in Brunei which was spoken about several times by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I should mention that that this an initiative of the University of Brunei in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society. It is not one in which I claim any proprietorial interest.
574 I welcome the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, who drew attention to the effective and powerful action that has been taken by voluntary bodies in general in the field of tropical forestry which have drawn attention to the parlous situation which now exists. The issue of debt in relation to forests is one that we have not had an opportunity to explore sufficiently fully today.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his remarks and for picking up the points made by the Select Committee and in the debate today. I look forward with much interest to reading his contribution in the Official Report in due course.
The Minister reminded us that the ITTO programme aims for sustainable forestry by the year 2000. However, I believe that the technology for achieving sustainable forestry is known to us now. What is needed is worldwide support for those countries which have tropical rain forests, to implement sustainability as fast as possible. This may require considerable support for other areas, as was, I believe, sufficiently illustrated in the discussion in the report which we are debating this afternoon.
I believe that the House is with me when I say that the simple distillation of your Lordships' speeches today would be that there is a great urgency for action now in this area. I commend the report to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past two o'clock.